Two motions to seek a $25 million federal BUILD Grant to fund replacement of the Belvue Bridge died for lack of a second Monday before the Pottawatomie County Commission.
Following an hourlong, sometime contentious debate, commissioners made no progress in finding a funding solution for replacing the aging span across the Kansas River which connects Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties east of Belvue.
Deanna (Ebert) Pierson made the proposal to seek the federal grant in collaboration with BG Consultants, represented by Brady Hedstrom, a structural engineer.
Pierson, a private citizen with grant-writing experience, offered to develop the grant narrative for a fee of $10,000. BG would provide design parameters, cost estimates and a cost/benefit analysis at an additional cost of $5,000.
“I have no doubt I can put together the narrative, but I don’t have the technical expertise. That’s why BG is here,” Pierson told commissioners.
Federal BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grants are awarded through the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to Pierson. For 2019, there is $900 million available, with no state to receive more than $90 million. A certain dollar amount must go to rural areas with no local match required, according to Pierson.
The fly in the ointment was the approaching July 15 deadline for 2019 grant applications.
Commissioner Pat Weixelman spoke in favor of the proposal, but abstained from voting since Pierson is his cousin.
“I don’t think it’s 15 grand that’s going to be spent unwisely,” Weixelman said. “We’ve been sitting on our hands for a year and what have we done? — not a thing. At least we’d have the horse out of the mud and walking down the road.”
Commission Chairman Travis Altenhofen questioned the legitimacy of the proposal by not going through the normal bidding process.
“This has stink written all over it,” Altenhofen said.
Commissioner Dee McKee questioned the late timing of the proposed grant application.
“The timeline just seems impossible,” McKee said. “It seems awfully nebulous to me.”
Following a heated back-and-forth between Weixelman and McKee and a subsequent 10-minute break, however, it was McKee who made a motion to proceed with Pierson’s proposal.
The motion died for lack of a second.
Altenhofen’s subsequent motion to develop an RFQ (Request For Qualifications) and seek the grant during the 2020 round of applications also died due to lack of a second.
In other business Monday:
• Pott County Fair Board members Troy Marple and Ben Shoenberger made a 2020 budget request of $85,000, and asked for the commission’s financial support for replacing two buildings at the Onaga Fairgrounds at an estimated cost of $450,000.
Marple said the buildings are in such disrepair that replacement is the best option. The fair board hopes to fund half the project through fundraisers, grants and pledges of time and materials, he said.
Commissioners took the request under advisement, but made no financial commitment to the buildings due to other large projects underway and restraints from the state-mandated tax lid.
• County Attorney Sherri Schuck and office manager Andrea Karnes reported a decrease in cases filed this year, and anticipated further declines due to the relocation of the Country Stampede to Topeka.
The Stampede normally results in around 200 cases filed annually, according to Schuck.
“I suspect this will be an adjustment year for us without the Stampede,” she said.
• Fire Supervisor Jared Barnes said 83,245 acres of pasture in the county were burned this spring, somewhat less than the 95,000-acre average.
Barnes also said the new Havensville Fire Station has been occupied, and an open house has been scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. June 29, as part of the community’s annual Fourth of July celebration.
“I have never seen a group so appreciative of what they’ve received,” Barnes said of members of the Havensville Fire Department.
• Appraiser Lois Schlegel reviewed 2019 appraisal values and topics from the recent conference of the Kansas County Appraisers Association.
The primary topic reviewed at the conference was the “dark store theory” and its potential impact on local units of government in Kansas.
“We need everybody on board with this because it’s going to affect every taxpayer in the state,” Schlegel said. “We need our legislators, county board, school boards and city boards — everybody.”
The “dark store theory” is being promoted by large retailers who claim their buildings are appraised unfairly.
If the theory is embraced by the Kansas Board of Tax Appeals, it would reduce valuations of counties and would likely result in a dramatic shift in the property tax burden to homeowners, Schlegel said.